Q: Can you quickly explain what VoIP is?
A: VoIP stands for Voice over Internet Protocol. VoIP phone service (sometimes referred to as broadband phone service or digital phone service) is a phone service that operates by using your high-speed Internet connection. There are two types of VoIP services: phone-based and computer-based. These services allow you to make phone calls using either your regular phone, an app on mobile devices, or a softphone client on a computer (via a headset with a microphone). As opposed to traditional landlines, VoIP uses your phone or computer to call the number via the Internet. The call is converted to data packets and sent over the Internet instead of through the copper wires that make up a standard PSTN network.
Q: How does one place or receive a VoIP phone call?
A: With a phone-based service, you use VoIP the same way you use a regular landline: by picking up the phone to answer it, or dialing a number to place a call. On a mobile device, you can use a VoIP-enabled app to connect. Select providers have their own mobile apps for ease of convenience. And with a computer-based service, you can use a softphone to make or answer the calls with a headset, complete with a microphone.
Q: Can I call any phone or just VoIP phones?
A: Most providers allow you to call any phone number in the world, whether that number be a local, long-distance, mobile, or international number. However, some computer-based providers may limit you to only other subscribers on that service (commonly known as “User to User”). For your convenience, we list only those providers who allow their customers to call numbers that can be accessed via the regular phone network. VoIP even allows you to talk to multiple users at once! A cool feature that most VoIP providers offer is “Conference Calling” or “Three-way Calling.” For business VoIP systems, certain providers also offer Conference Bridges, which can allow for calls between more than three users. Plus, business VoIP phone systems offer other calling features like hunt groups, find me/follow me, and more to ensure that you are always connected.
Q: How is the voice clarity?
A: The quality of VoIP voice has dramatically improved over the past few years. Currently, VoIP calls have voice quality that is at or above the quality of a landline phone.
Please note, though, that voice clarity can differ from provider to provider, and usually depends on the speed (and quality) of your broadband connection. If you want to find out whether or not your current broadband connection supports VoIP, test your connection via our speed test.
Before signing up, you may wish to consult other VoIP users by visiting our forums or checking user reviews for specific providers to see how they match up. Oftentimes, you can also sign up for trial periods through select VoIP providers in order to test out their service.
Q: Do I need a computer to call?
A: No, you do not need a computer for phone-based VoIP services. However, you do need an existing broadband Internet connection. You can also purchase a dedicated IP phone; but this is not necessary, as most providers offer a BYOD option. An ATA (sometimes provided free of charge through your VoIP provider) can be connected to your existing phone to a high-speed internet connection. With a computer, one can manage and use different features offered by the provider, but owning a computer is not required for VoIP service.
Q: What differences are there between making a local call and a long-distance call?
A: In terms of technology or how you dial the number, there are no differences. Call charges, however, vary from plan to plan. Rates for long-distance calls are usually quite low. Furthermore, many VoIP providers offer unlimited long-distance plans — so the long-distance call is free!
Q: Can you give me a technical overview of VoIP?
A: As the name implies, Voice over IP refers to calls that traverse networks using Internet Protocol (IP). The voice stream is broken down into packets, compressed, and sent toward its final destination by various routes (as opposed to establishing a single, 'permanent' connection for the duration of the call like a traditional phone line), depending on the most efficient path (this varies from call to call). At the other end, the packets are reassembled, decompressed, and converted back into a voice stream by various hardware and software elements, depending on the nature of the call and its final destination. For a more detailed, technical overview of VoIP technology, please see our page VoIP Services 101.
Q: What can a VoIP phone do that a landline phone cannot?
A: A VoIP or broadband phone service can help you save up to 90% on your monthly phone bill. VoIP providers offer many features which are covered in the monthly fee, such as voicemail, caller ID, conference calling, and call waiting. Many providers offer unlimited long-distance with their plans, which saves customers the trouble of having to purchase long-distance phone cards. Furthermore, most providers offer unlimited calling to other subscribers on the same service, allowing you to talk to those users for as long as you wish at no additional cost.
VoIP service is best suited for you if you can relate with any of the following comments:
- "I have a high-speed internet connection and would like to lower my phone bills."
- "I make expensive long-distance or international calls and would like to reduce those costs."
- "I run a small business and phone bills are a significant part of my overhead."
- "I like the convenience of taking my number with me as I travel anywhere in the world."
- "I'd like to utilize attractive features such as conference calling, choice of any area code, voice mail, caller ID, call waiting, etc."
- "I'm frustrated with excessive taxes and long-distance company monopolies."
- "I live outside the U.S. but I need a local NYC number for my business."
Q: Does it come with 911?
A: Although providers offer "Enhanced 911" (E911), it may be difficult for some VoIP services to seamlessly connect with the 911 dispatch center or to identify the location of callers using VoIP. Select providers require you to set-up the E911 feature on your own, so be sure to link your current and correct physical address when setting this up.
If you are troubled by this, you may wish to consider VoIP as an additional phone service instead of an alternative to a traditional phone line.
Q: Can I keep my number?
A: Most providers allow number portability, so you can use the same number you had with your traditional phone provider. Certain providers charge for this, so be sure to check with your provider. Also, you should be aware that number portability is not instant, and can take up to 10 days.
Q: Can I get a number of an area code other than mine?
A: Yes, your VoIP provider may permit you to select an area code different from the area in which you live. This means, if you live in Austin and get a New York number, you will NOT incur long-distance charges while calling a New York number, regardless of where you call from. It does means that your "local" calls, in Austin, will be charged long distance and that your friends in Austin will incur long-distance charges when they call your New York Number.
Additionally, most providers offer virtual numbers (sometimes known as "virtual extensions"). With this feature, you can obtain a number from a different area code in addition to your current area code. If you have relatives living in another area code, they can dial the local number to reach you, which saves them the cost of long-distance charges.
Q: Can I take my number with me when I travel?
A: Yes, most providers allow you to use your VoIP service wherever you travel as long as you have a high-speed Internet connection and either a VoIP phone adapter or a mobile app. Through any of these mediums, calling works just as if you were dialing from your home or business — without incurring additional charges.
Q: Can I try a service for a limited period?
A: Yes, many providers offer a trial period (often with a money back guarantee) so you can try a service to see if it meets your needs.
Q: What are other useful features?
A: VoIP services offer many features. We have identified multiple features, some of which are redundant (or go by different names depending on the provider). Note that by hovering over the name of each feature on a provider's details page will bring up a tooltip that helps define the feature. To view which features are available under your desired plan, you will see either an 'X' or a checkmark next to the feature. There is also a section denoted as 'Optional Feature Pricing', where extra features can be added on for the associated price.
Q: How secure are VoIP calls?
A: Documented instances of VoIP security breaches have been few and far between. Also, encryption for VoIP subscriber units has laid to rest many VoIP security questions.